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Blackhawks vs. Canucks preview

Season Series: Tied, 2-2Oct. 21:Vancouver 3, Chicago 2Nov. 22:Chicago 1, Vancouver 0Jan. 23:Vancouver 5, Chicago 1Mar. 5:Chicago 6, Vancouver 3

How the Blackhawks Can Win: Grab a lead and hold onto it. There's something to be said for a team that shows the kind of resiliency the Hawks did in coming from behind in each of their four victories over the Predators. At the same time, this team can't expect to mount similar charges against the Canucks. Part of the solution is taking advantage of their deeper lineup to act instead of react, but the keys will be execution and grit. Chicago seemed a little unmotivated at times against Nashville. A consistent physical commitment should help them set the pace and help them avoid chasing the game.

How The Canucks Can Win: Keep the Big Four rolling. The Kings had no answer for the Sedin twins and linemate Mikael Samuelsson in the first round. The trio combined for 12 goals and 29 points over the six games, but even those eye-popping stats don't capture how dominant they were. The Hawks will dress a faster, smarter, more experienced defense that will pose an entirely different set of challenges for Vancouver's top line, but this unit has learned a bit about how to play when things get tight during last year's second-round loss. Also taking notes: goalie Roberto Luongo, who probably still has nightmares about his career-worst performance in last spring's decisive Game 6 loss. He'll be motivated to avenge that embarrassment and, powered by the confidence gained in the Olympics, he's ready to make amends.

Key Performer: Ryan Kesler. There may be other players on the ice, but it's hard to imagine any will be more entertaining than Kesler, who lived up to his Selke nomination with a solid defensive effort that mitigated Anze Kopitar's impact in the first round. He'll face a stiffer challenge this time around though when he'll be asked to get in the grill of Jonathan Toews, a player who is every bit as tough and even more talented than Kesler. That should be a great battle. And then there's the little matter of the rivalry between he and Chicago forward Andrew Ladd, a feud that started last spring when Ladd broke Kesler's nose and continued this season when the two got into a nasty scuffle.

Keep An Eye On: Antti Niemi. Sure, he managed to guide the Hawks to a first-round win that featured two shutouts of the Predators ... but he also gave up four goals in two other games, reviving every Chicago fan's fears about the team's goaltending. Facing a Vancouver offense that outscored Nashville's by more than 50 goals -- and with Luongo offering a steady presence at the other end of the ice -- Niemi will be challenged to prove he's not Chicago's weakest link.

X-Factor: Alexandre Burrows. A 35-goal scorer during the regular season, Burrows was a non-factor against the Kings. He netted just one goal and that was an empty-netter. He wasn't the only Canuck to come up small, but his ability to contribute in a secondary role becomes more critical in a series where the Sedin line will be face tougher checking.

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